July 19, 2005 at 2:07 pm #48228
Dinosaur Jr. a blast from past
By ERIC R. DANTON
Ã‚Â© 2005, The Hartford Courant
Talk about coming full circle.
The three original members of Dinosaur Jr. return to Northampton, Mass., Tuesday for the first time since acrimony split them in 1989, to play a club that once banned them.
"We got banned from all the clubs in Northampton, and Boston also," says J Mascis, singer and guitarist for the band, which formed in Amherst, Mass., in 1983. "We were just not very popular, because we had no fans and we were too loud. All the soundmen hated us. Everyone hated us."
No fans, too loud — sounds like the makings of an influential underground band. That, of course, is just what Dinosaur Jr. became. Maybe no one paid any attention after the first record, the self-titled 1985 effort "Dinosaur" (the "Jr." came later, after complaints from a washed-up ’60s offshoot of Jefferson Airplane), but the band’s second album resonated through indie-rock circles like a nuclear aftershock.
"You’re Living All Over Me," released in 1987, blended hard-core punk, blasts of guitar noise and dusty melodies a la Neil Young in a combustible mix that spilled into the mainstream as ’90s alternative rock. Put simply: No Dinosaur, no Nirvana.
"We had some sort of perseverance," Mascis said. "I don’t know why we kept going. After our second album, we started to get some fans, but I don’t know how we survived."
It wasn’t through cordial personal relations. The band’s dynamic was downright poisonous most of the time, and rancor between Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow meant the two often went for weeks on tour without speaking to each other. That was fine for a while — the trio (including drummer Emmitt "Murph" Murphy) seemed to thrive on the tension.
Smoldering friction flared into outright conflict around the time Dinosaur released "Bug" in 1988. At one show, in a strip mall in Naugatuck, Conn.,
Mascis swung his guitar at Barlow when the bassist refused to play the songs correctly.
"I just remember he was just trying to sabotage the show," Mascis said. "He was not playing any songs. He was just making noise and stuff. I kept thinking Murph was going to beat him up or something, and then I realized Murph wasn’t going to and the next thought was, ‘Well, I guess I have to do it.’"
Despite the physical altercation, Mascis and Murph didn’t boot Barlow out of the band until the following year. Dinosaur Jr. released four more studio albums without Barlow, but none had the power of the first three, which were re-released this spring on Merge Records.
Mascis says this year’s tour is mostly to promote the reissues, but such a thing would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
"It was kind of just up to Lou to mellow out or something," Mascis says. "He was the most angry, I guess, for a long time. A few years ago, he seemed to start to take some responsibility for the past and he apologized to me for some stuff he had done and he was just kind of willing to … make amends and reach out."
For his part, Barlow says he’s made peace with the past.
"I’ve mellowed considerably," Barlow told the Journal News in Westchester County, N.Y., earlier this year. "I carried a lot of anger around after they kicked me out of the band. But I let a whole bunch of that go. It happened such a long time ago that it just seemed pretty goofy to continue being angry at someone who kicked you out of their band when you were 22 years old."
Before it was clear the band would reunite for a tour this summer, Mascis told Mojo magazine, "I don’t know what good it would do."
Months later, he has a better idea.
"I guess we influenced a lot of bands, and just to kind of show people who hadn’t seen us before or who didn’t know that … " Mascis trails off before finishing the thought: "To kind of show that we were a good band that influenced a lot of other bands."
The tour so far has only included a few festivals and a handful of European dates, and Mascis says it’s too early to say what — if anything — might happen next.
"We’re all just trying to think about making it through the summer," Mascis says. Although everyone in the band has been conciliatory, Mascis said it’s also too early to say whether old conflicts will resurface.
"We still haven’t played that much, so we’re still working on it, probably," he said.
The taciturn singer and guitarist has been surprised by one aspect of sharing a stage again with Barlow, though.
"We’ve had a good time so far, which I wasn’t expecting exactly," Mascis said.
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